Jennifer Wharton's second release as bandleader comes out today and is available on Bandcamp here. Featuring Jennifer Wharton, John Fedchock, Alan Ferber and myself on trombones, and a rhythm section consisting of Mike Eckroth on piano, Evan Gregor on bass, and Don Peretz on drums. Last but not least, one of the greatest voices in jazz, Mr. Kurt Elling makes an appearance not to be missed.
The record sounds great, and I'm proud to be a part of it. The group has changed over the last few years and the composers Jen commissioned to write for her are doing some adventurous things!
When this was recorded in the Fall of 2020 my family was still greatly concerned for the health of our 2 year old daughter and I voiced my concerns to Jen. I offered to be replaced on the record so she could have someone in the studio, but she decided to make it work and I ended up recording in my home studio.
Because my father is a computer scientist and programmer he was really into the developments in music software and hardware in the 1990s. We spent a lot of time setting up IRQ channels and MIDI on the early sound cards, reading Keyboard Magazine, and programming Cubasis endlessly trying to make something that sounded like music. It was great fun, and totally frustrating.
Since then I've never been without a home studio and have had the great fortune to produce a few records, mix a few records for clients, record jingles, video games, and my own arrangements and demos. My knowledge of recording technique came from talking to my brother-in-law who now runs a successful mastering studio in Chicago, recording in the studios in NYC, and great websites like TapeOp and SoundonSound.
My point is - when John Fedchock started asking me if I was capable of recording at a professional level I answered yes, I've been doing this for 30 years! Let's do this.
So the band headed into the studio without me and recorded the album over a four day period in September of 2020. We had rehearsed remotely by tracking our individual parts and planned on integrating my parts into the mix in a similar fashion.
Challenge #1: a toddler who runs around like a donkey on the hard wood floors. My wife and I were ready to be as flexible as possible when the mixed tracks started coming my way.
Oddly enough, I felt totally comfortable recording to tracks. In a way it's not that different than playing live, aside from the obvious lack of communication. I've subbed on plenty of Broadway shows where I prepare by playing into a mic while listening to the audio, and this was no different. Getting into the head space of performing involves suspending your conscious thought and allowing your mind to meld completely with what you're hearing. Even when I listen to music I imagine I'm onstage with the band, standing behind Cannonball or Miles and staring at the spotlight on his shoulders knowing that I better start listening to the band cuz I've got to solo next!
That was the mindset I approached this record with. Even though I was recording in a Whisperroom late at night while my family slept upstairs, I freed my mind to sink completely into the tracks to find the places for my notes to sit. I kept finding that my first takes were the best. I decided to not listen to the tracks before I recorded so that I'd have every chance at making it feel as live as possible. When things needed fixing I'd go back, but even then I took complete takes instead of punching so that Paul and John had organic material to work with.
Massive Challenge #2: producing my own sessions. It's one thing to record for yourself, but quite another to record for John Fedchock and engineer Paul Wickliffe. I had to come in and out of that headspace between each take to listen objectively. Thinking like a producer who is focused on blend, sound and music, as well as an engineer who is thinking about blend, sound and the music but in a different way.
I sent some scratch tracks off to Fedchock and Paul Wickliffe who both agreed that the mic (a RODE NT1-A) was sounding a little nasal and didn't blend with the trombones recorded on U87s in the studio. Under a deadline I posted to Facebook and was able to borrow a Coles 4038 within a couple of days, making huge improvement to my sound. Coupled with a gorgeous sounding ribbon preamp from AEA (TRP2) I was on the right track, and with the engineer's advice on mic placement we were off and running.
The period of adjusting my mic placement went on for almost two weeks, and I was amazed at what John and Paul were able to hear. It raised my bar for what I thought my own studio was capable of and I came away with a lot of knowledge and experience, not to mention a greatly improved sound for my studio.
Since then I've had to return the Coles and after talking with colleagues and reading articles decided to upgrade my mic to an AEA R84 and I couldn't be happier. There are a lot of opinions out there regarding what mics sound best on trombone and I went with the R84 primarily for it's ability to add a warm but not overpowering proximity effect when desired.
Kudos to Jen and the band for recording this record during the Covid quarantine and I hope it is well received. The music so much fun to play, and I'm honored to get to play with such an amazing group.
Thanks Jen, John, Alan, Evan, Mike, Don and Paul!